The longer you watch anime, the more you begin to notice certain tropes ranging from the adorable (pure-hearted characters who live only for battle, like Goku) to the absurd (unexpectedly perverted characters, like Master Roshi). However, there are some tropes that are so played out that we wish the genre could give them a rest. And at the top of this list is a trope so worn out that we nearly canceled our Crunchyroll subscription: the fate of the world always ending up in the hands of a young and inexperienced person is a stupid trope that needs to finally stop.
The anime trope that must stop, is the young kid being the chosen one that holds the fate of the world in their hands.
It’s tough to track the exact origins of this anime trope, but much of the blame likely goes to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. In that show, most of the crew of a cutting-edge mobile military base is killed by enemy forces, leaving young wunderkind Amuro Ray to pilot the titular Gundam (a top-secret new weapon) and defend humanity. While the series would later introduce the idea that Amuro has special ESP abilities, that felt more like a retcon to explain why an untrained civilian is immediately able to take on experienced military soldiers such as the legendary warrior Char Aznable.
Later, anime shows would follow in these footsteps, especially those involving giant robots. Voltron, for example, was all about young characters pooling their collective talents into fighting experienced enemy forces (though most were a bit more experienced than Amuro Ray). And this anime trope arguably reached its apex with Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show in which the entire world’s fate depends on an emotionally unstable boy with daddy issues getting into his giant robot and fighting an increasingly bizarre array of enemy Angels.
…we get that many anime series focus on young protagonists saving the day because it helps bring young fans on board (the protagonists basically function as audience surrogates)…
Now, we can hear you getting ready to throw that Netflix dub at us as you ask a very pointed question: why does the anime trope of the young and inexperienced person saving the day need to stop, especially when it has powered some of the best anime shows ever made? While this trope has given us some great storylines, it has also given us too many annoying copycats. For example, RahXephon is a show that has its own very loyal fans, but most who have watched it can agree that it’s a weak sauce show that tries to bite Evangelion’s style but offers none of its substance.
Additionally, while we get that many anime series focus on young protagonists saving the day because it helps bring young fans on board (the protagonists basically function as audience surrogates), the truth is that some of the best shows ever made focus on older and more experienced characters. Cowboy Bebop is stronger for being a show focused on grizzled bounty hunters, just as Trigun is stronger for Vash being an older, otherworldly figure rather than a wet-behind-the-ears kid.
If you’re still not convinced, we have one last question for you: do you really want your anime shows filled with kid heroes as annoying as Wesley Crusher in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation?
On that note, Dragon Ball Z is a much stronger series than Dragon Ball, and the fact that we don’t have to put up with so many kid antics from young Goku is a big part of why. If modern anime could stop focusing on turning every young and inexperienced protagonist into a child of remarkable destiny, we might finally get more series featuring older characters and written for older audiences.
Finally, we’d like to see the end of this anime trope because it often serves as a bridge too far when it comes to our suspension of disbelief. We can believe, for example, that future wars will be fought with robot soldiers, but the idea that young Amuro Ray becomes an ace Gundam pilot after flipping through the owner’s manual for a few seconds is utterly crazy.
Considering that Mobile Suit Gundam and future entries in the franchise want us to treat their stories of intergalactic war and complex politics as serious business, the fact that the entire war effort often seems to rely on one inexperienced child often takes us out of our state of pleasantly suspended disbelief. Even worse, when anime titles do try to make their kid heroes feel more like kids, we get the worst of both worlds: protagonists acting like annoying sidekicks and comic relief right up to the moment we have to treat them as the greatest soldiers ever born.
If you’re still not convinced, we have one last question for you: do you really want your anime shows filled with kid heroes as annoying as Wesley Crusher in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Fans of that show can tell you how mind-meltingly insane it was to see some teenage whiz kid making the captain look like a fool in almost every episode, but Star Trek’s one-season mistake has become the blueprint for entire generations of anime storytelling. Fortunately, it’s not too late for modern manga and anime creators to ditch the brilliant child protagonist trope and finally focus on characters who are just as mature as the world around them.